AMARILLO – With the availability of community health screenings and home health testing kits, more Americans are playing doctor, said a Texas Cooperative Extension specialist.
“Spiraling health-care costs and interest in preventive health care are paving the way for products and services that provide immediate information and suggested remedies, but not always reliable information and remedies,” said Andrew B. Crocker, Extension gerontology health specialist.
Considered less expensive and more convenient than a visit to the doctor, self- diagnostic and -monitoring services have become big business, Crocker said.
But consumers need to double-check, not only on the accuracy of the tests, but also on the creditability of the company, he said. This technology is not without limits and could result in serious problems if used instead of the expertise of health providers.
Devices such as blood-glucose tests and blood-pressure kits are accepted for self-monitoring conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, Crocker said. However, other medical tests becoming available outside the health provider’s office no prescription needed include bone density scans and ultrasounds.
Accuracy is an important consideration when self-testing, he said. False-positive test results may indicate a condition is present, when it is not. False-negative results do not identify a condition that is present.
“All diagnostic tests have limitations and sometimes their use may produce erroneous or questionable results,” he said. “Test results obtained outside of a clinical setting may not be accepted by a health professional, and he or she may recommend another test possibly costing you twice as much.”
Crocker said those who rely on tests which are not ordered or conducted by their health provider also miss out on pre- and post-test counseling. These services offer information, support and follow-up advice that only a health professional can give.
When a health professional is involved in a test or screening procedure, the results can be evaluated within the context of the whole health picture, not just one test, he said.
Furthermore, receiving news of a potential illness or serious medical condition over the phone, or from the color of a test strip, can be devastating, Crocker said.
Self-testing diagnostic kits and health screenings are also subject to the possibility of scams, he said.
Crocker offered some tips to protect against possible health scams.
– Question what is seen or heard in ads or on the Internet.
– Find out about a product or service before paying for it.
– Do not let a sales person force snap decisions.
– “Free” services are free they do not require giving the provider a Medicare number, credit card number or any other identification.
– Check with the health provider, insurance company and/or Medicare testing being offered for a fee at a community screening may be covered under insurance at a health provider’s office.
“It’s easy to see why some people can be taken in by promoters’ promises, especially when successful treatments have been elusive,” Crocker said. “But resist pressure to decide on the spot’ about trying an untested product or treatment. Ask for more information and consult a knowledgeable health professional.”
Promoters of legitimate healthcare products or services do not object to requests for additional information, he said.
Use the following checklist to help determine the trustworthiness of health information and/or services:
– Can you easily tell who is sponsoring the product or service?
– Is the sponsor a government agency, a medical school or a reliable health-related organization?
– Is there contact information for the service provider? Address? Phone number?
– Is the user’s privacy protected?
– Does the product or service make claims that seem too good to be true?
To learn whether the Food and Drug Administration or the Federal Trade Commission have taken action against the promoter of a product or service, go to the Web at http://www.fda.gov or http://www.ftc.gov , or contact the Better Business Bureau at http://www.bbb.org .
To report concerns of false advertising of a health product or service, contact the FTC toll-free at 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357); the State of Texas Attorney General at 800-252-8011; or the Texas Department of State Health Services at 888-963-7111. Each organization’s Web site has reporting options as well.